In the latest numbers from the Department of Veterans Affairs, former military members are committing suicide at a rate of 17 a day.
“If it were 17 a month, I think that would be a crisis but we’re saying 17 a day,” said Shad Meshad.
Meshad created the National Veterans Foundation (NVF) and the first ever veteran suicide hotline in the country. He’s been running it for more than three decades, helping thousands of veterans.
About a year ago, he helped Marine Corps Veteran Mario Miramontes, who was once on the brink of taking his own life.
“It was accepting that I am not a part of this big machine,” said Miramontes. “It was just me, my family, my kids and I didn’t have any back up.”
Like many veterans, Miramontes was struggling with transitioning out of the military.
Being a Marine felt like the highest honor in his life. It gave him purpose and then it was gone.
“Nothing has really replaced that sense of service,” Miramontes explained.
Miramontes struggled with that for a decade after leaving the Marines, but what took him to the point of suicide was feeling like his service and sacrifice was so easily forgotten by society. He says he found himself cleaning fish and being called racial slurs after returning to civilian life.
Veteran suicide hotlines get more than 1,000 calls a day, some estimate more than 2,000 calls a day, from servicemembers in the same kind of dark place Miramontes was at.
“We have today an epidemic, an epidemic of suicide,” said Meshad.
Meshad is also a veteran, he served in the Army during Vietnam. It was that service and what he saw there that made him realize that the rest of his life would be helping veterans overcome the mental and invincible wounds of war.
“When I was in Vietnam, as a mental health officer actually, I was very aware we were going to have problems coming back,” explained Meshad.
Despite Meshad’s efforts over the last 50 years, it just doesn’t seem like the number of veterans needing help is shrinking.
“When soldiers are getting ready to come out of the service from war or even without going to war, there needs to be at least six months of training on how to come out,” Meshad said. “Not only six months preparation but another six months of people like us to let them know things are going to go this way or that way and this way. It’s okay, it’s normal.”
Support is critical to preventing suicide amongst veterans, just ask Miramontes with support from Meshad and his fellow veterans at NVF, he is in a better place mentally. In fact, he is currently working for NVF, answering calls on the suicide hotline with the hope of saving other veterans from taking their life.